Thursday, June 09, 2005

Johnnie B-A Postscript

On the things that count, sometimes what we think of as procrastination is simply our subconscious mind telling us to "slow down," that we're not ready for the event just yet. There is a lot that goes on in the back of our heads, some of it we control and some of we don't, some of it we are aware of, some of it we are not.

In any event, it took me a while to screw up my courage to head back to Michigan. I knew my meeting with Johnnie B. had the potential of being fairly traumatic, so I procrastinated, I made some excuses, and I let the whole issue percolate in the back of my head.

About six months after my brother's comments, I went back to Michigan for a weekend, with the ostensible purpose of seeing my family again. On a Saturday morning, I took a ride over to the City Union Mission area to look for Johnnie B. The first pass by, I couldn't pull in the parking lot. Instead, I stalled, driving around the several blocks surrounding the Mission. Nobody fit the bill. I went to the local Quik Mart, where my brother told me Johnnie liked to perch, and eyeballed a homeless man. He clearly thought I was a cop and sauntered away as fast as he could, shooting me a "don't bother" look. I said "Hey Johnnie." No response, still no luck.

I decided to go the Mission itself. The Mission was a well manicured two story building, plopped in the middle of a No Man's Land type of neighborhood. It was an incongruous building, with the same effect on the senses that a nicely set picnic table might have in a garbage dump. I sat in my rented car in the parking lot, scrutinizing the occasional straggler to see if I could recognize Johnnie.

After about twenty minutes, I decided to go in and ask for him. I wasn't sure what to say to him--and, even with closing arguments in front of juries, I have never been a fan of scripts. I knew I was going to figure out a way to thank him, and, after that, I was going to roll with the punches. As I walked in, the place looked and smelled clean. A very pleasant, pious looking young man came to a counter to ask if he could help me. Over his shoulder was a simple frame suspending the verse from the Old Testament, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Trying to sound as casual as possible, I asked, "Do you have somebody by the name of Johnnie B. who stays here?"

He winced and then he sort of smiled. "Johnnie is no longer with us. He passed away about two months ago." Silence, and as my mind raced about what to say next, a twinkle came to his eye. "He was with us for a long time, and then he turned up missing for awhile. Quite a character, Johnnie. I hear he died in his sleep." He might of said something else, but I turned and walked out the door. I didn't trust my voice at that point.

Johnnie told me once to never worry about the things you can't control, and perhaps, just perhaps, I was not yet ready to go back with him to the lake and the end of that dock so very long ago. An interesting life cannot help but be a life with some regrets--I suspect that is part of the bargain. I know it is a bargain I would take every time.

I know I will always regret having failed to take the opportunity to thank my friend Johnnie B., but I suspect he doesn't mind.